Let's assume you're a writer looking for an agent. What talents/skills are you looking for?
The agent job description doesn't just include sales. There's legal stuff, like contracts and foreign rights. Some agents edit. Some brainstorm with their clients. Others like the marketing and promotional aspects of their chosen profession. An agent can perform one or all or none of these roles.
The ones that perform none are the ones to watch out for. One caveat to remember is there's no criteria for becoming an agent. Anyone can hang out a shingle and say, "I'm an agent." Hell, I could. (I'd suck at it, but I could.) Do your research. Get recommendations and opinions.
And by recommendations and opinions, I mean ask someone published by Agent X about his/her experience. Not "Gimme an introduction!"
Check out the agent's personality and reputation. ALWAYS check Preditors & Editors!
Long before you get 'The Call' from an agent, you should have a list of questions for him/her. This is a business relationship, folks. Don't go in blind. Ask published friends what they asked and what they wish they'd asked before signing the contract.
And don't fool yourself. It is a legal, binding contract you are signing. When I still practiced law, I had more than a few folks ask me, "How do I get out of this?" As an attorney, I believe in preventative research. As a writer, I still believe.
Part of that prevention is not only knowing what an agent can do for you. It's knowing what he/she can't do.
- An offer of representation is not a guarantee the agent can sell your book. What will the agent do if he/she can't get a publisher interested? How many publishers will he/she approach? Which publishers?
- An agent can't make your book marketable. Just because she 'LOVES' the premise doesn't mean the publishers will. Writers need to watch the market too.
- Your agent is not your best friend. This is a business relationship, not a personal relationship. If you need to vent about your dick of an ex, call your sister, your mom, your BFF. Not your agent. Sometimes a friendship develops, but what do you think is going to happen if agent drops you or vice versa. Yeah, you can see that trainwreck coming, can't you?
With the coming of our e-book overlords, a lot of the nitty, gritty stuff will change. General business common sense won't. There will be things a writer can manage on their own. Your best bet is knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, then hiring the appropriate person to cover the areas where you're lacking.
Anyone else out in the interwebs have suggestions on what to look for in an agent?